As I reported earlier this week, I’m currently onboard Celebrity Cruises‘ Celebrity Millennium, the first big cruise ship to sail in North America — and to allow American passengers — in more than 15 months. Thursday, two passengers on the ship, which is sailing at only about 30% capacity, tested positive for COVID-19. Here’s a look at what we know about how the situation was handled.
I spent most of Thursday ashore in Aruba, one of three ports on the itinerary and one of two that allowed us to meander about on our own. As such, I booked an independent excursion and spent seven hours exploring caves and lazing on the beach.
When I returned to the ship, I had messages from several industry colleagues, asking if I had heard the news. St. Maarten requires testing for all passengers on the ship in order for everyone to disembark at the end of the sailing on June 12. The line began testing passengers Thursday, and two of the results came back positive.
According to a press release from Celebrity — which required all cruisers 16 and older to be vaccinated for this sailing in order to prevent mass spread of the virus — the passengers, who are in the same cabin, were each tested again, and the second test came back positive also.
As a result, the line turned to the new protocols it has been developing for the past several months during the industry’s hiatus and enacted its contact tracing methods to reach out to passengers who were likely to have been exposed.
Around 6 p.m. on Thursday, I was informed that the ill passengers, who are asymptomatic, were on the same shore excursion as I was two days ago in Barbados and that I should proceed down to Deck 3’s conference center to be tested. (I had originally signed up to be tested Friday morning, a process that Celebrity made rather easy with the help of a QR code and a web-based scheduling system.)
When I reached the check-in desk outside the conference center, I was told to go back to my cabin and that one of the ship’s nurses would come to test me. (The testing facility has extended hours until midnight tonight for anyone who wants to voluntarily be swabbed, but those who had close contact with the passengers who tested positive are being given priority.)
In the hour and 45 minutes that followed, I received a phone call to tell me to remain in my cabin and verify that a nurse was coming; an in-person visit from two officers who apologized for the inconvenience and reminded me, again, to stay in my cabin; and another phone call to verify that a nurse was on her way and that I’d have access to unlimited Wi-Fi and free on-demand movies.
From the start, Celebrity has been totally transparent about what’s happening, and the captain of Celebrity Millennium, which is carrying about 600 passengers and 700 crew, made an announcement to say that 200 passengers had been tested since the first two positives had been detected, and no additional positive results were found.
At about 7:45 p.m., a nurse wearing lots of PPE and a gentleman in a suit, mask and face shield knocked on my door, at which point I was given a PCR test by the nurse. Although it was uncomfortable, it was pretty painless.
When I spoke with the first person who called me on the phone, I asked how long the test results take to come back. She said two hours, max, but the man who accompanied the nurse who administered my test told me that it would take several hours, and I might not have my results until Friday morning.
Because the isolation meant I had to miss dinner, I ordered room service. When it arrived, I yelled through the door to ask the crew member delivering it to please leave it outside the door for me, as I was awaiting a test result. He obliged.
Several minutes later, another knock revealed a member of the culinary staff, who stopped by to deliver sparkling wine and chocolates.
Celebrity took good care of me while I waited for my results to come back, which happened around 10:30 p.m., when I got a call from the hotel director. However, although I tested negative, I have to remain in my cabin until the morning, as the medical team wants all results returned before allowing us out and about onboard. (Everyone on the excursion was tested, along with the ill passengers’ room steward and dining room waiters.)
It’s important to note that, statistically, this was bound to happen, and I’m not at all surprised it did. Everyone onboard is fully vaccinated (except for the children, of whom there are only eight), and none of us, including kids, was allowed to board without negative PCR tests pre-cruise.
But vaccines aren’t 100% effective, meaning that there’s still a small chance for a fully inoculated vessel to see a COVID-19 case or two onboard. It’s a risk I knew I was taking when I booked the sailing and one I’d take again in a heartbeat, especially after seeing how well this was handled.
The key here is that, this time around, cruise lines are ready. So far, Celebrity has been up-front about the situation and quick to act to prevent the virus from spreading. It has contacted passengers known to have been potentially exposed to the cruisers who tested positive. It’s testing all of us (at its own expense), and it’s making sure we’re exceedingly comfortable in the process.
Although officials haven’t yet said whether this will affect Celebrity Millennium’s next sailing, the line does have a plan for when this cruise ends.
I asked what will happen to the ill passengers when we reach St. Maarten in two days — we have a sea day tomorrow — and I was told that they will have to disembark, go straight to a hotel and stay there until they return negative test results.
In addition to being the first line to allow Americans back onboard, Celebrity will also be the first line to have a ship sailing from a U.S. port again. Celebrity Edge, helmed by Captain Kate McCue, is set to depart from Fort Lauderdale on June 26 with the same protocols in place.
Featured photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.